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Open Access Research article

Evolutionary relationships of the Critically Endangered frog Ericabatrachus baleensis Largen, 1991 with notes on incorporating previously unsampled taxa into large-scale phylogenetic analyses

Karen Siu-Ting12, David J Gower3, Davide Pisani12, Roman Kassahun4, Fikirte Gebresenbet5, Michele Menegon6, Abebe A Mengistu7, Samy A Saber8, Rafael de Sá9, Mark Wilkinson3 and Simon P Loader7*

Author Affiliations

1 Molecular Evolution and Bioinformatics Lab, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Co. Kildare, Ireland

2 School of Biological Sciences and School of Earth Sciences, Woodland Road, Bristol BS8 1UG, UK

3 Department of Life Sciences, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK

4 Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority, P.O. Box 386, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

5 Department of Zoology, Oklahoma State University, 311 D Life Sciences West, Stillwater, OK 74078, USA

6 Tropical Biodiversity section, MUSE - Museo delle Scienze di Trento, Viale del Lavoro e della Scienza 3, Trento 38123, Italy

7 Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Basel, Biogeography Research Group, Basel 4056, Switzerland

8 Zoology Department, Faculty of Science, Al-Azhar University, Assiut, Egypt

9 Department of Biology, University of Richmond, Richmond, VA 23173, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2014, 14:44  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-14-44

Published: 10 March 2014

Abstract

Background

The phylogenetic relationships of many taxa remain poorly known because of a lack of appropriate data and/or analyses. Despite substantial recent advances, amphibian phylogeny remains poorly resolved in many instances. The phylogenetic relationships of the Ethiopian endemic monotypic genus Ericabatrachus has been addressed thus far only with phenotypic data and remains contentious.

Results

We obtained fresh samples of the now rare and Critically Endangered Ericabatrachus baleensis and generated DNA sequences for two mitochondrial and four nuclear genes. Analyses of these new data using de novo and constrained-tree phylogenetic reconstructions strongly support a close relationship between Ericabatrachus and Petropedetes, and allow us to reject previously proposed alternative hypotheses of a close relationship with cacosternines or Phrynobatrachus.

Conclusions

We discuss the implications of our results for the taxonomy, biogeography and conservation of E. baleensis, and suggest a two-tiered approach to the inclusion and analyses of new data in order to assess the phylogenetic relationships of previously unsampled taxa. Such approaches will be important in the future given the increasing availability of relevant mega-alignments and potential framework phylogenies.

Keywords:
Africa; Amphibia; Eastern Afromontane; Ethiopia; Petropedetes; phylogenetics